Thursday, March 12, 2009


Blind Willie Johnson, "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground" (c. 1927-1930)
Here, audibly, is the bridge between field song, raw gospel, and country blues: Johnson's titanic evocation of Jesus on the cross forbids and engenders words in equal measure, demands that one either keep silent or spend one's life in the pursuit of the vast unknown realms toward which it crawls and scrapes. On the very short list of the great accomplishments of the United States government, having sent a virtually indestructible pressing of "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground," along with instructions for its playing, outside this solar system surely ranks as among the most perceptive.

Los Bravos, "Black is Black" (1966)
One of the great early efforts in what would come to be called brown-eyed soul from this pan-European Madrid-Berlin group. Everyone with a cheap radio and the electricity to operate it has almost certainly heard this track, but note the really rather incredible alacrity with which these young men laboring under Franco's fascism in Spain and the hypocritical, self-serving double-bind of American and Soviet posturing in post-war Germany tap into the hard-guitar-harder-horns Stax deep soul sound. Proof positive, as if we needed any more of it, that "rock'n'roll" began as a taxonomical means of occluding the fact that good clean Yanquís and gabachos were finally getting hip to rhythm and blues.

War, "The World Is a Ghetto" [edit], The World Is a Ghetto (1972)
El alma de los ojos marrones reached perhaps its peak in the early post-Eric Burdon records by War: like George Clinton's Parliament and Funkadelic stable, they were performing a scathing social critique, a new communitarian ethos, and an astonishing recombinant alchemy of popular and folk forms, and like George, they were eventually written off and taste-publick'd into a one-hit joke (for them, "Low Rider"; for GC, the "Atomic Dog" bassline and regrettable frat-boy bullshit). Unfortunately, Papa Yanquí persists in his limitation: the full 10 minute version of this remarkable track received the great illegal crackdown from the record label (and as we move further and further toward the destabilization of the copyright paradigm, it becomes increasingly important to educate oneself as to the actual substance of American Fair Use law: Walt Disney was essentially responsible for the bureau-kapitalist mess in which we presently find ourselves, but let's take a look at the limits of the law, courtesy this video's You Tube poster--

FAIR USE NOTICE: These pages/video may contain copyrighted (©) material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available to advance understanding of ecological, POLITICAL, HUMAN RIGHTS, economic, DEMOCRACY, scientific, MORAL, ETHICAL, and SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES, etc. It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior general interest in receiving similar information for research and educational purposes.

--know yr rights), but you can at least get a taste. And once you do, remember: by any means necessary ...

Henry Mancini, "Lujon" (1959)
Oh my god but this is greasy. Abuse and Henry Mancini make natural bedfellows, and I fervently do not celebrate the entire catalogue, but as the absolute apogee of poisonously slick casino steelo, this is admittedly pretty immaculate. You may remember it from Jackie Treehorn's place in The Big Lebowski.

Matthew Larkin Cassell, "In My Life," Pieces (1977)
Rapidly becoming one of those digger's-dream records; the nod goes to Dylan, proprietor of Cosmic Cheese for hipping me to this shit. We're in the proximity of serious Mystery White Boy material: Cassell put out two records in the late '70s on which he played everything but the drums and bass and promptly quit music (a digger who got in touch with him in a moment of high-powered Geek Enthousiasmos revealed that MLC "hadn't been in a recording studio since the early '80s"). Apparently the original LP fetches well over $1,000 on a regular basis; that, of course, is absurd, but were this standard of quality to be maintained, the dopenuss would be considerable--'70s corduroy reflective without being solipsistic or sappy, paisley and airy without being precious or anemic, white-funky without being a garish caricature. Only Steely Dan's best--that is to say, its least cocaine-glossy--moments have, to my knowledge, really approached such excellence in this kind of mood.

Laboratorium, "I'm Sorry, I'm Not Driver," Quasimodo (1979)
My one pseudo-claim to digging fame: I didn't discover it by any means, but goddamn if I didn't course through the narrow byways of YouTube uploading for it. I know almost nothing about it: ostensibly it's some state-sponsored arts-funding steez from the Communist era in Poland that combines heavy, not to say porn-y, funk with Pharoah Sanders/Leon Thomas-style spiritualist ecstatix (slap-pop delight bassline + Marek Stryszowski vocal solo with Auto-Harmonizer = plaese to taste my RAER).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Man, a Plan, a Canal, Heidegger

My struggles with that pointy-physiognomy'd ex-Nazi's "The Word of Nietzsche: 'God Is Dead'" and "Metaphysics as the History of Being" have foreclosed my innanet-optional time for a minute or two here, but allow me to remunerate (possibly not on the ultimo-obscuro tip, as I'm doing this on a Very Important temporal restriction):

Notorious B.I.G., "Party and Bullshit," non-album single (1993)
Brilliant debut single from the man who would make, I am sometimes inclined to posit, what remains hip-hop's single greatest album-length statement. The Last Poets were unhappy with the way Biggie appropriated the critical "party and bullshit" refrain from their "When the Revolution Comes," but as they say, if you don't like the way things look in the ghetto, don't blame the people who live there: the fact that one of the definitive social-consciousness provocations of the Black Power era had become a sort of self-consciously empty but nonetheless alluring alternative to facing the brutalities of the post-Reagan world spoke, and continues to speak, far more eloquently than we might wish.

Mark Hollis, "Watershed," Mark Hollis (1998)
Post-apocalyptic chants and liquid flutters among the ruin of skyscrapers from the man who led Talk Talk from the New-Old-Romantic wasteland of Euro Duran Duran clones to the only band in the world doing what it did: it's lazy to tag those last two brilliant Talk Talk records, The Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, as post-rock, in that nothing to appear in their wake and claim that tag was anywhere near as subtle or as multifarious as what they aped (in terms of instrumentation and dynamics) but failed to understand on the macrostructural level (Hollis and cohorts recorded hours of droning, shadowy improvisations which where manipulated into vaguely 'songlike' structures in a process not at all unlike Holger Czukay's visionary work with Can). Arguably, only Radiohead from Kid A on has worked toward the evolution of these ideas in a nominally pop-rock context, and if In Rainbows was any indication (one hopes it wasn't), even they have begun to take the reductivist view of themselves.

Can, "Mushroom," Tago Mago (1971)
En parlant de Can ... Jaki Liebezeit's tape-echoed drum breaks are the stuff of pure legend, Damo Suzuki sounds like post-structuralist Europe in semiotic and vocabulary chaos, and the fact that Can was an improvising group in which the European and Afro-American concepts of indeterminacy clashed from moment to moment (Czukay and keyboardist Irmin Schmidt studied avant-garde music with Karlheinz Stockhausen; Liebezeit and guitarist Michael Karoli were gigging jazzers) meant that strange disjunctions and uncomfortable bifurcated presences abounded in a way that "better" or "more cohesive" groups almost certainly couldn't have worked: listen to the way that Holger's minimalist basslines change without notice or structural signal, the way that Karoli's post-psychedelic guitar plays in and around the eerie organ chords in a way that finds ambiguity among their interstices.

Scott Walker, "Jesse," The Drift (2006)
Official Art-Damage Game Over notice: consider it served. It gets hardly more strangled, off-putting and horrific than Walker's ode to Elvis Presley's stillborn twin Jesse, to whom the King would speak in episodes of stress- and drug-addled psychosis, and the concomitant overtones of post-September 11 strike-anywhere terroristics he manages to wring from the nightmare side of that most American of symbols (see Greil Marcus' "Presliad" in Mystery Train for a brilliant examination of the Elvic mythos). "Blocks of sound" in a way that Stravinsky never could have imagined; Zappa if he had combined Varèse with Weill rather than electric R&B and avant-jazz.